No matter the sport, Andale senior Hunter Knoblauch knows when and how to carry a team.
He put those talents on display again Friday night, scoring 11 of his game-high 23 points during the third quarter and helping Andale hold off a gritty Circle team, 60-57.
“We survived,” a relieved Indians coach Jeff Buchanan said. “Circle did a great job. They gave us a great run, they battled their tails off, and that was a fun ballgame.”
The Class 4A football title might have slowed the team’s progress thus far, said Knoblauch, who was a Top 11 running back.
“We’ve had some games down to the wire this year, and we’re coming alive, and we just pulled together a team,” he said. “We haven’t been in the gym that long this year because of state football run. But this Christmas break is going to do well for us. We’re going to have time to get together as a team.”
The Indians (4-0) jumped out early, leading by as much as 14-6 in the first quarter, but Cody Eastridge’s three-pointer just as the buzzer sounded pulled Circle (4-1) to within a point, 14-13, after one period.
The Thunderbirds kept up their run, scoring 11 straight points ending the first quarter and early in the second, capped by Colby Wallace’s lay-in for a 17-14 lead with 6:49 left before halftime.
But the Indians stayed even until halftime, trailing just 29-28 at the break.
Knoblauch opened the second half with a driving layup, scoring all but five of Andale’s output in the period. In fact, he scored as many points as the entire Circle team in the quarter, and the Indians took a 44-40 lead into the final period.
Coming down the stretch, fellow senior Jason Hermreck hit three of four free throws and a key three-pointer that kept Andale close.
“Jason came through for us,” Knoblauch said. “He’s been that way since the third grade. And he hit three of them out of four – that was huge for us.”
The Indians took the lead for good with 2:16 to play when Hunter’s brother, junior Bo Knoblauch, darted in front of a Circle pass and took it for a breakaway layup and a 55-53 lead.
Senior Jeff Ast hit two free throws with 1:12 to play for a 57-53 lead, but Brendon Horyna hit a jumper from the right side that cut the margin to two points, 57-55, with 58.5 seconds left.
Bo Knoblauch was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one, but a held ball on the rebound gave the ball back to Andale. Two Hermreck free throws pushed the lead to 59-55, but Circle’s Braden Kirkpatrick put back a rebound to make it 59-57 with 6.7 seconds left.
Hermreck was fouled again, made the first, but missed the second, and Circle’s last-ditch shot was off, and the Indians could breathe again.